#6 Midwestern State (6-3) at #1 Abilene Christian (9-0)
Coming into this season, this game was interesting because it had the potential to be a playoff decider for at least one of the teams. That's not the case for ACU, as they have clinched a playoff spot, but if Midwestern State is to have any chance to move into the top 6 in the region, it is a must win game.
The Mustangs defense was thought to be their strength coming into the season, and that has held true through the season. MSU is second in the LSC in total defense (1.4 yds per game behind Tarleton) and third in scoring defense. They are in for their biggest challenge of the season, however. Jarrell Warren and Stephen Turner lead the team in TFLs (8.5, 8.0) and sacks (6.5, 5.0), while Herman Walker and Micah Hill each have 4 INTs. It is a team effort, as 14 players have 20 or more tackles. The offense has seen a dramatic change the past three weeks. Going into week 7, MSU was averaging 282 yds of offense total, with only 134 of that passing. Since then, the Mustangs are averaging 293 yds passing and 447 yds total. Zack Eskridge has seen his QB passing efficiency rating go from 106.28 to 138.77 (third in the LSC). He has thrown for 870 yds with 13 TDs over the past three weeks, and his efficiency rating during that period is 178.08. Marcus and BeeJay Mathis led a rushing game that is 3rd in the LSC, averaging 150 yds per game.
Is there anything new to say about Abilene Christian? Well, they did trail in a game (for all of two and a half minutes) for the first time since their season opener. But Zach Stewart showed that he is capable of leading the Wildcat offense. Stewart had his second straight impressive game, throwing for 350 yds and 3 TDs with no INTs against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Bernard Scott was held to "just" 116 yds rushing, but had 3 TDs, and added 4 receptions for another 52 yds. Johnny Knox also had a big game, with 6 catches for 101 yds and 2 TDs. Scott now has 1,494 yds rushing (19 TDs) and 647 receiving (5 TDs). Despite allowing 444 yards, the defense did a good job of bending, but not breaking. Four Javelina possessions of 6 or more plays did not result in points. Fred Thompson led the way with 11 tackles, 3 for losses and a sack. For the season, ACU has also gotten playing time for a lot of players, with 13 having 20 or more tackles. Vantrise Studivant, Ashton Whiteside and Thompson lead the team in tackles for loss (11.5, 9.5, 9.5) and sacks (6.5, 6.0, 6.0). Drew Cuffee and Craig Harris each have 3 INTs.
Would it be too much to ask for a repeat of last year's game? Yeah, I know, it would be. ACU is obviously in a great position, but they don't want any kind of letup. They need to win to guarantee the #1 playoff seed and home field advantage for the playoffs. They also need to let Billy Malone shake off any rust that may have accumulated the past two weeks (if indeed he plays as expected). The Mustangs are desperate for a win. If they are to have any chance of making the playoffs, they must win. But even if they do, it does not assure them of a playoff spot. Prediction - ACU welcomes Malone back with a big win, and still gets him some rest in the second half. ACU 42-21
#3 Tarleton State (8-2) at #2 West Texas A&M (8-1)
Tarleton has been in this situation before - three times before. Beat the Buffaloes in the last week of the season and go to the playoffs. Lose and stay home. In 2005, WT won a 30-26 thriller, overcoming a 26-16 third quarter deficit. In 2006, WT held off a 4th quarter TSU rally, winning 21-16. Last year, WT kept TSU off the scoreboard for the first 43 minutes of the game, cruising to a 39-14 win. Will this be the year that Tarleton breaks through?
The Texans find themselves at 9-2 and in the #6 spot in the region - barely. Last Thursday night on national TV, the Texans seemed to be on their way to any easy win over Angelo State. Roderick Smith's 27 yd TD run with 12 minutes to go in the third quarter, gave TSU a 24-3 lead. But ASU fought back, pulling to within a TD with 2 minutes to go. Then, in what seemed like a TV scripted moment, the Rams recovered the onside kick and drove down to the Tarleton 5 yard line, before Keon Perry intercepted and ASU pass in the endzone to save the day, and possibly the season for Tarleton. The Texans have the LSC's second leading rushing offense, averaging 190 yds a game. Roderick Smith (96 yds per game) and Travis Evans (73.5) both rank in the top 10 in the LSC. Scott Grantham is the starting QB, and has passed for 1,859 yds, with 14 TDs and 9 INTs. He has two dangerous targets in Eric Foreman (38-559 3 TDs) and Devin Guinn (33-422 5 TDs). The defense leads the LSC in yards allowed (293 per game) and is second in points allowed (18.9 per game). Jamaal Steamer and Josh Douglas lead the team in TFLs (18.0, 10.0) and sacks (both with 4.5). Keon Perry, Dee Collins and Tramaine Wright each have 2 INTs to lead the pass defense.
West Texas A&M has rebounded quite well since losing their showdown to ACU. Angelo State and Northeastern State were victimized by an averages of 43-5 scoring and 460-163 in yards. Keith Null continues to have an outstanding season - he has now thrown for 3,812 yds and 36 TDs. Six different WT players have 20+ receptions led by Charly Martin (69-1,293 16 TDs) and Carl Johnson (53-736 6 TDs). The running game still has not come around, but the rumored return of Keithon Flemming would certainly help. As a unit, the Buffs are averaging just 102.4 yds per game, but only ENMU has fewer rushing attempts than WT's 26 per game. The defense is now fourth in points allowed and third in yards allowed. With Tarleton State and Midwestern State both facing explosive offenses, WT has a good shot at moving up in those rankings. Eugene Sims and Jared Brock lead the team in TFLs (10, 9) and sacks (7, 4.5). Darnell Johnson has 4 INTs to lead the way, while Keyon Kiles and Braelon Davis each have two.
The Texans will need to run the ball well and hope to get some turnovers to stay in this one. The Buffaloes need to stay sharp for the playoffs, possibly treating this as a must win (no need to give the selection committee anything to think about Sunday). We didn't see anything last week to make us think Tarleton would reverse the recent history of this series. Once again, Tarleton looks to come up just shy of the playoffs as WT wins 31-24.